why your college's reputation matters (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/beraldoleal/)

why your college’s reputation matters (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/beraldoleal/)

We know how important your reputation is while applying for college admissions, but there’s another side to that coin: the reputation of the college matters, too. Schools with selective acceptance rates, a long history of excellent education, prestigious professors, and top rated programs will typically offer the best reputation not just for themselves, but for the students that graduate from their institution.

Think about it: the reputation of your college makes a difference every time you hand over your resume. It influences the job opportunities you’ll receive, how much you’ll get paid, even the connections you make while you’re in college — and after college. It’s a huge decision, and it’s essential for every student to scrutinize the reputation of a college before applying or enrolling.

Why Your College’s Reputation Matters

While ultimately, your skills, experience, and the effort you put forth at school will matter the most, your university’s reputation makes a difference. Your college or university will be on your resume for the rest of your life, and the bottom line is that prestige pays. And if you’re unfortunate enough to select a school that’s on shaky ground, you might find yourself without a school at all — or worse, a completely useless degree.

A Great College Reputation Pays Off

A survey from Robert Half Technology shows that among executives, 42% said that university prestige matters. Another survey from Gallup shows that where a candidate received his or her college degree is either very important or somewhat important to 46% of business leaders.

And although now that most regionally accredited schools have a solid reputation for quality education, where you go to college isn’t as important as going to college in the first place, there is a difference between the best schools and the simply good schools. Where elite schools really matter is in the earnings of graduates: a study found that graduates from elite colleges can earn as much as 40% more than alumni from public colleges that are not as selective.

The rule of better earnings from better schools is true even outside of the Ivy League. In a study of public colleges in Texas, researchers found that graduates from the state’s flagship public schools earned more than their peers who attended non-flagship colleges or community colleges. And exceptional students at the flagships earned the most. Meaning: attending a great school helps, but doing well at a great school can really pay off.

Networking at the Top

Although overwhelmingly, experts say it doesn’t matter to employers where you go as much as that you go to college at all, it’s still a smart move to attend a college with the best reputation you can find. Not only is your post graduation pay likely to be higher, you’ll also tap into an asset that’s arguably more valuable than your degree: elite college networking.

For many, the true value of an elite college is not necessarily the education (which is, of course, excellent), but the connections. Attend a college with a top notch reputation, and you’ll become part of that college’s network, not just with your classmates, but with all past and future alumni. And while all schools will typically offer networking opportunities, the ones offered by elite schools with a great reputation tend to be far more lucrative and supportive than schools with a lesser reputation.

While you’re in high school or college, you may be more concerned with your next midterm than you are with making connections, but don’t discount the value of networking. Experts say that building and nurturing an excellent network is one of the most important ways you can develop an excellent reputation that supports a great career. With a great network, you’ll be able to positively influence how others perceive you and maintain an excellent reputation.

Poor Colleges May Close Down — While You’re Still a Student

While great earnings and powerful connections are nothing to sniff at, an even more important consideration is that the quality of your school is good enough to keep it open. If not forever, at least long enough for you to complete your degree. This may sound like an assumption you can simply take for granted and at hundreds of non-profit, regionally accredited schools, it’s not a major concern. But for thousands of students, attending a school that’s been shut down is, unfortunately, a harsh reality.

In April, Corinthian Colleges, which included Everest University, Everest University Online, Everest College Phoenix, Heald College, and WyoTech, completely ceased operations. The closure followed a $29.7 million fine from the Education Department for misleading students and accreditation agencies about employment rates and the federal student loan program.

The school closures left more than 16,000 students without a college to attend — even as they were working toward their degrees. And unfortunately, coming from a school that is known for its poor standards may have trouble transferring course credits to better schools that have a more solid reputation to keep their doors open. Former Corinthian College students are now seeking to file a $2.5 billion claim against the company.

Corinthian Colleges is one of the more unfortunate and sudden examples, but they may not be the only ones: experts are concerned that many colleges may be at risk. They are typically small, tuition dependent private colleges. Some may close, others may merge, or be purchased by for-profit colleges like the former Corinthian Colleges.

A number of for profit colleges are announcing that they are shutting down or selling off campuses due to declining revenue and enrollment as well. These include campus closures of some DeVry University locations, phasing out campuses of the Art Institutes, and all Sanford Brown College and Institute campuses.

Other ailing colleges may be under fire, but can continue to operate for years, getting by on changing accreditation, suing, lobbying, and appealing decisions. But in the meantime, educational quality and reputation suffer.

Attend a poor college, particularly a for-profit college with declining revenue, and the risk of losing your school while you’re still working on your degree is very real. This is just one of the reasons why it’s essential to consider the reputation of your college before you apply, and especially before you enroll.

How to Choose a College with a Great Reputation

It’s essential that you choose a college with a great reputation. If you’re headed for the Ivy League or other elite and flagship universities, you don’t have to worry about how your school choice will reflect on your reputation. But if you’re not attending a name brand school, or especially a school you’ve never heard of before, it’s a good idea to investigate the reputation of the institution you’ll be associating your name with for the rest of your life.

There are a number of formal ranking resources students are likely to be familiar with when making their college choice. Reliable sources of college reputation rankings include:

There are, of course, other tools you can use to investigate the reputation of a college you’re interested in attending. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator. The College Navigator tool is designed to help students find the right college with information about tuition and fees, selectivity, institution type, and more.

In addition to basic information, the College Navigator also includes information that can point to the reputational quality of the college or university. These include:

  • Cohort default rates: One of the most telling are cohort default rates: these rates show how many former students and graduates are not able to pay their student loans. Colleges are banned from receiving federal student aid if they have two-year default rates of 25% or higher for three consecutive years, or if their rates are 40% or higher in any single year. This is a major warning sign that you’re looking at a school with a bad history and likely, a negative reputation that may come back to haunt you.
  • Graduation rates: You’ll also want to look at graduation rates. This is another figure that tells the bottom line: how many students are actually receiving a degree from this school. Graduation rates should be, at minimum, 50%, but ideally, should be much higher.
  • Accreditation: If you’re seeking a nonprofit school with a solid reputation, you’re looking for a college or university that is accredited by a regional accreditation organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Regional accreditation organizations assess schools to ensure that they meet certain educational standards, and a mark of approval from one of these organizations generally means that a school can be trusted to preserve your good reputation. Decades of accreditation are best, but even schools that have just been accredited within the last year or so will still meet the same excellent standards.

If the school you’re interested can’t be found on the College Navigator at all? That’s bad news. All colleges and universities recognized by the Department of Education should have a listing available on the College Navigator.

In addition to data on graduation rates and default rates, consumer advocacy groups have urged the Department of Education to add information about investigations, lawsuits, and settlements over deceptive practices to the College Navigator.

While this information is not yet available on the College Navigator, you may be able to discover schools that are under fire by checking the U.S. Department of Education Heightened Cash Monitoring list. On this list, you’ll find schools that have compliance issues that may include accreditation problems, concerns about financial responsibility, concerns about administrative capabilities, and denial of recertifications. Inclusion on this list is a definite warning sign of a bad reputation for students.

In addition to official information, you can also listen to the word on the street to gauge a college or university’s reputation. Websites including StudentAdvisor and RateMyProfessors may offer useful information about an institution’s reputation and quality.

Attending a college with a great reputation is important to your individual reputation, but even more important is how you maintain your own reputation. To learn more about building and keeping a great reputation while you’re in college, check out our guides to online reputation management for college grads and job seekers.